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The West Art District makes an eloquent statement on the power of art to build community 

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette

Palmer Feed Store, a local hardware and animal feed supplier located on West Church Street, is one such business. Bill Palmer is the owner of the store, which has been in his family since 1947.

"I asked them if they wanted to do graffiti art on the side of my store that faces Westmoreland. We're going for a fresh look. We always try to adapt to the changes that are going on," Palmer says.

A man with deeply rooted history in the area, he recognizes the change coming to West Orlando and wholeheartedly embraces it. He says that the art district has "definitely" had a positive impact on the surrounding area. One indication in his eyes is the transformation of local foot traffic.

"There's a whole lot more people biking here on the weekends," Palmer says. "That's just nice to see."

West Art District is still in its development stages, and isn't officially open to the public yet. Rai and the other developers involved in the project are hoping to have all the spaces – which are currently very raw – renovated and operational before the end of the year.

click to enlarge PHOTO BV JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo bv Joey Roulette

Many of the spaces have already been leased to local businesses, Rai says. Among the future tenants he plans to work with are an art gallery, a restaurant and brewery, a co-working space, a yoga and CrossFit studio, several tech start-ups and a business incubator – the latter to be headed by Rai himself.

One of West Art's main initiatives is to give back to community in which they are located. Auto Machine and Parts Co., which occupied the warehouses for more than two decades, employed dozens of people from the neighboring streets for years. When the factory finally ceased operations last summer, those who were left found themselves out of work. Rai and the owners of the facility intend to revive the trend of employing locals by going to them first when they begin seeking staff to run the finished operation.

"This business here, before it closed down eight or nine months ago, used to give a lot of people that lived around here jobs for the past 20-25 years," Rai says of his predecessor. Since he's been working on West Art, he says, "I actively got to know everybody in the neighborhood. Once I get this all developed, those are my first employees."

Located one block from new Orlando City Soccer Stadium, the establishment of the West Art District comes at a very convenient time for the residents of West Orlando. The Downtown Development Bureau's CRA district boundary is at the corner of Central and Westmoreland across from the West Art District, so Rai, Noun and the owners of the facility are, in essence, picking up where the DDB leaves off.

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